• International Workplace
  • 18 July 2017

Great Repeal Bill – the largest legislative process ever?

In what is being referred to as one of the largest legislative processes ever undertaken, the Great Repeal Bill, now known as the European Union Withdrawal Bill, was published on 13 July.

The Bill, which has received a mixed response, will allow all existing EU legislation to be converted into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day the UK leaves the EU.

The UK parliament will then have the power to ‘amend, repeal and improve’ the laws as necessary. Thousands of laws ranging from workers’ rights to the environment will be transferred into UK law under so-called ‘Henry VII clauses’ which empower the Government to change laws that have already been passed by Parliament, without seeking further parliamentary approval.

The plan is for the Bill to be passed ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU – but will become law only when it actually leaves in March 2019.

The Bill’s white paper details how it will maximise certainty for businesses, workers, investors and consumers across the whole of the UK as we leave the EU:

  • First, it will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) and return power to UK institutions.
  • Second, subject to the detail of the proposals set out in this White Paper, the Bill will convert EU law as it stands at the moment of exit into UK law before we leave the EU. This allows businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed significantly overnight, and provides fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change. It also ensures that it will be up to the UK Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law (once it has been brought into UK law) at the appropriate time once we have left the EU.
  • Finally, the Bill will create powers to make secondary legislation. This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU, and will also enable domestic law once we have left the EU to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.

Speaking specifically about employment law, the white paper confirms that workers’ rights that are enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law after it has left the EU. Protections are further strengthened by the Great Repeal Bill’s incorporation of Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) case law, which means that where workers’ rights have been extended by CJEU judgments, those rights will continue to be protected in the UK. In a number of areas, UK employment law already goes further than the minimum standards set out in EU legislation, and the Government will continue to protect and enhance the rights people have at work.

Furthermore, all the protections covered in the Equality Act 2006, the Equality Act 2010 and equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU.

Following the publication of the European Union Withdrawal Bill, Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair, David Isaac, said: 

“We have been clear there must be no rowing back on people’s rights after we leave the European Union. Rights derived from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, including important protections for children and older people, must be preserved for UK citizens. This Bill provides a golden opportunity to set out a positive vision of a fair Britain that values equality and human rights.

“We will be recommending amendments that make the Government’s commitment to retaining the Equality Acts 2006 and 2010 explicit on the face of this Bill, and to introduce a constitutional right to equality against which all laws and government action must be tested. It is vital that Parliament can properly scrutinise any future changes to laws that are fundamental to our rights and this important task must not be left solely in the hands of Ministers.”